CHARLOTTE — There’s no more soda in the vending machines, but beverages aren’t where Dino Babers figures to truly change the culture at Syracuse.
It’s with a high-tempo offense that, after one day of spring practice, the coach saw an all-too-familiar sight, one that was there when he took over at Eastern Illinois and at Bowling Green.
"It always ends the exact same way: with a bunch of big guys over trash cans not saying much shaking their heads," he sat at Friday’s second day of the ACC Media Days.
The Orange were 118th in total offense in Scott Shafer’s third and final season — one in which they went 4-8 and 2-6 in the conference — and during his tenure, Syracuse ranked no higher than the 85th (376.8) it was in 2013.
It’s clearly a different situation than what Babers inherited in Bowling Green in December 2013. That team was coming off a MAC championship and had a prolific passer in Matt Johnson.
He does have a QB that has shown flashes in sophomore Eric Dungey, who threw for 1,298 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions through and added 351 and four scores on the ground. But the issue for him is staying healthy, as he missed four games with injury.
The top two pass-catchers in Steve Ishmael (570 yards and seven TDs) and Brisly Estime (293 yards and two scores) are also back as the Orange return eight players offensively. Though that includes just two starters on the line — center Jason Emerich and right guard Omari Palmer — and there are just 34 combined starts among Dungey’s protectors, 110th in the country.
"I have no idea how we’re going to do this year," Babers said. "I can tell you this, we’re going to prepare like we’re going to win every single football game and I expect the effort on the football field to be exactly that way."
But there’s a reality Babers is facing, especially when the schedule includes Atlantic Division challenges in powers Clemson and Florida State, dangerous Louisville and a matchup this year with Notre Dame.
Getting Syracuse, which has made a bowl game in just 4 of the last 14 years and once since it joined the ACC in 2013, back to relevance and up to speed in Clawson’s offense, will be a process.
"The first year, it’s like I’m watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island," Babers said of watching his team get through its first spring under him. "It’s like I know what’s going to happen next. It’s kind of boring the first year. The second year is really cool. You get to the tempo and speed that you want."